Behind-the-scenes heroics helped ballpark open PRESEASON SAVES

April 06, 1992|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Once baseball season opens today, you won't find Charles Smith patrolling the outfield at Oriole Park.

But Mr. Smith, a foreman and bricklayer with Eldersburg-based Baltimore Masonry Inc., has already made one of the great catches at Baltimore's new ballpark. It came last summer out near the right field fence, where he noticed that his crew would need an odd-shaped brick to complete the ballpark's exterior wall.

He caught the design flaw in time for the brick-maker, Cushwa Brick Inc. in Williamsport, to produce the needed building block in record time and to keep construction on schedule.

"We literally dropped everything to do it," recalls John A. Latimer III, president of the Washington County brick manufacturer. The company designed, produced and shipped the bricks in about 10 days -- a process that normally takes six to eight weeks.

"It takes time," Mr. Latimer says. "You have to make a mold, then the bricks, dry them, fire them, cool them and package them for shipping."

But this was for Oriole Park, and, as he says, "any time something for the stadium came up it got top priority."

The result: Baltimore Masonry completed its six-month contract on the final day, without holding up any other phase of construction.

Workers at Baltimore Masonry and Cushwa Brick are among the hundreds of unsung heroes who turned in all-star performances to complete the $106.5 million showcase stadium on time and on budget.

They battled unforeseen problems, design changes and the weather to complete their jobs. But they survived through hard work, long hours, innovation -- and some good luck.

If there was an Oriole Park construction Hall of Fame, Alan J. Petrasek would likely be another early inductee. Mr. Petrasek, stadium project manager for the George Hyman Construction Co., came up with a unique approach to building the step-like riser in the main level of the stadium. It saved between 2 1/2 and three months of construction time.

Instead of the traditional method of building frames and pouring concrete, Mr. Petrasek came up with the idea of using a concrete-extrusion machine, usually used to make the 3-foot-high median barriers along highways, to produce the risers.

"It was the first time it had ever been done," he says with a smile of satisfaction. The actual development of the extrusion machines, about the size of an automobile, was done by Greenwald Inc. of Odenton.

Melvin Pennell, an artist with Belsinger Sign Works Inc., wasn't lucky enough to invent a new machine to make his job easier. In a race against time, Mr. Belsinger was working every daylight hour hand-painting the billboards on the wall of the Orioles bullpen beyond the left field wall.

And he got a good soaking recently when members of the ground crew ran a test of the sprinkler system.

That wasn't the only mishap. Design changes created havoc among some subcontractors.

Take Claire V. LaRocco, who heads the company responsible for cabinets and millwork trim in the mahogany-accented sky boxes. Things were proceeding smoothly for her company, Schill/Greenbrier of Ronceverte, W.Va., until the phone rang one day last fall.

The call was from Robert C. Krueger, another executive with George Hyman Construction, and it was bad news. There had been a design change in a couple of the sky boxes, including team owner Eli S. Jacobs' sky box, to add spiral staircases to a labyrinth of meeting rooms below. The redesign called for new cabinets.

The call sent an alarm through the Schill/Greenbrier factory, where about 50 workers were involved in a number of other projects. The company viewed its stadium work as a "high-profile project" and the message to the factory, according to Ms. LaRocco, was: "This is for the stadium -- do whatever we have to do to get it done."

Production shifted into a higher gear as cabinetmakers began working 10-hour days, reporting to work on Saturdays and some Sundays.

The new marble-top cabinets were in place early last week.

But Mr. Krueger was still hoping for the cooperation of Mother Nature to complete a final project in Mr. Jacobs' suite: gluing down the carpet in the outdoor portion of the sky box. "This may be our last shot at it," Mr. Krueger says into his walkie-talkie as he walks through the stadium. "The forecast is for the temperature to reach 62 today, then cool off again," he adds, explaining that the glue won't set at temperatures under 60 degrees.

One of the bigger projects still on Mr. Krueger's work list last Tuesday was filling in nail holes in the crown molding outside the executive suites. "Millwork is hot," Mr. Petrasek says. "That's going to be our biggest push today. We're going for perfection at this stage of the game."

Long hours have been the norm since work on the stadium began, says Norman Pitsenbarger, senior project manager for DynaLectric Co., which handled much of the electrical work. "I mean, like, six days a week, 12 hours a day."

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